World Culture Across the Table

Leonora Burton of The Country Goose in Cold Spring brought her own tastes from Wales to New York’s Hudson Valley, but she caters to a wide range of food preferences. Find your world market and explore culture through cooking.Minimized world of tastes copy

Advertisements

Choose your filling

minimized-hamantaschenHamantaschen are three-cornered treats stuffed with many favorites—prune, apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese fillings. The traditional pastries of Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of the villain Haman, taste great any time of year. Make hamantaschen and test a triangle or two before curious neighbors smell the delicious aroma and drop in with an appetite.

Wrap and Roll

Puffy golden egg rolls may top plates at all-you-can-manage buffets or come with beef and broccoli servings to go, but when we rely only on these sources, we’re missing out on a joyous do-it-yourself meal.

Takeout offers convenience on busy days, but cooking Chinese food at home can bring on even more flavor. As the Chinese New Year approaches, falling on Jan. 28 this year, make room for a meal of Chinese cuisine or at the very least a Chinese-American recipe without ready-to-eat containers.

For the last few years, it’s been my good fortune to attend festive gatherings to welcome the holiday. The menu typically includes two to three versions of stir-fry, steamed and fried rice, dumplings, tofu with sesame, wontons and those crunchy yet tender treats known to some as spring rolls and to others as egg rolls.

Though contemporary fans of Chinese food may use the terms interchangeably, my Chinese cooking inspiration refers to her family’s carefully wrapped creations as spring rolls. No Chinese New Year feast would be complete without them as a favorite side that can easily stand in as the main attraction.minimized-make-your-own-spring-rolls-copy

Unraised sheets of dough wrap around a filling of chopped vegetables like cabbage, carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms while some variations include mung bean threads and pork or shrimp.

Tradition holds that spring rolls shared among family and friends trace their origin to the Chinese New Year to signify the renewal of springtime based on the lunar calendar. The term egg roll may be accurate for thicker wrappers made with egg, popularized by restaurants beyond the Chinese mainland during the last century. Other Asian cuisines claim their own varieties, and whether you call them egg rolls or spring rolls or shape them more squarely than roundly, those who pause to argue about names or misnomers could turn to find the platter empty.

Fresh spring-roll skins prepared with flour, salt and water may taste best, but you’ll find me assembling spring rolls with wheat-based ready-made wrappers sold in packages of 20 to 25 pieces for around $2. Local markets stock super-thin wrappers that fry up lightly and crisply.

minimized-spring-roll-filling-copyWhen using even the best ingredients, this easy endeavor can flop without proper technique. For her fried spring rolls, my guide in all things Chinese raises the heat and stirs swiftly when cooking the filling. She generously fills the wrappers and recommends rolling them tightly not only to keep the filling in, but to keep the frying oil out. Though she teaches the study of Chinese language professionally, spending far more time in a classroom than a kitchen, she’s very much at home sharing the joy of spring roll preparation and appreciation.

Find a little happiness in the new moon with this simple recipe. Serve with citrus sauce or plum preserves.

Spring Rolls

Yield: about 20 spring rolls

1 pound ground pork
8 to 10 stalks scallions, chopped
1 medium-sized cabbage, shredded into small strips
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups mung bean vermicelli (rinsed, uncooked and cut with kitchen scissors into small pieces)
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 package 25-count spring roll wrappers (skins, shells)
canola or vegetable oil
1 to 2 beaten eggs for sealing wrappers

  1. Brown pork with scallions over medium heat. Add cabbage strips, stir and cook on high heat to warm through completely. Lower heat to medium, stir in carrots and cook additional 2 minutes. Add mung bean vermicelli and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Season with 1 half teaspoon salt and a few twists of pepper. Drain any excess liquid to minimize moisture. Cool cabbage mixture completely to prevent wrappers from breaking while filling.
  2. To fill and shape rolls, lay a small stack of skins on a work surface with one corner of the skin pointing to you. Spoon a thick row of filling across the base of top skin, below its center. Fold bottom corner up and over filling, hold firmly and fold over left and right corners to opposite sides in envelope style. Complete rolling and brush the final corner with egg. Fold corner over to seal.
  3. To fry, use a 12- to 14-inch pan that allows oil to cover bottom to a quarter inch. Bring oil to high temperature before adding spring rolls individually. Just as pan is full, turn the first one, and then one-by-one turn the others in the order they went into the oil. Once rolls have all been turned, remove them in the same order and place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil, allowing space between each roll to preserve crispness. Serve whole or cut diagonally.

First published by The Highlands Current

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

 

 

 

Companion Crops

When savoring good company — with friends, family or even pets — we all benefit. The same goes for favorable food match-ups, from eggs with bacon to soup and salad. Even though a fine panini capably stands alone, a marriage comes together when a sandwich joins a side dish. Burgers with golden fries may not make the wisest nutritional coupling, but there’s a little love trying to breathe through all that cholesterol.

minimized-roasted-root-vegetables-with-quinoa-copyWhen a serving of noodles looks deserted on a plate or halibut needs a partnership, consider winter’s survival foods: an array of root crops. As plate companions, they turn a solo helping into a harmonious meal. Mashed, baked, roasted or even pickled, these seasonal staples keep us going when temperatures dip. With December’s first measurable snowfall recorded, winter offers a generous choice of main course and side vegetables.

Along with a host of other farmers at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market, Cheryl Rogowski of Rogowski Farm grows a range of crops to carry the community through springtime’s arrival. Since 1955, her family has grown heirloom vegetables in Pine Island in the black-dirt region of Orange County. The area consists of thousands of acres of fertile organic soil, turning out cool weather vegetables like sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots and parsnips.

minimized-cheryl-rogowski-with-parsnips-copyAs Rogowski arranged baskets of vegetables flecked with that rich black dirt, she helped a shopper select a pound of bright orange carrots. Like many of her customers, she relies on root vegetables for family meals in cold weather. “I love roasting root vegetables,” Rogowski said.

And what this farmer serves at home, she offers at the market. “We’ll have carrots all winter long,” she said. “We’ll also have turnips through winter and we’ll have parsnips probably through February.”

Carrots stay in play throughout the year, but other root crops like rutabagas and turnips are sometimes overlooked during their peak season.

As for parsnips, they add a dash of spice. “I call them the elegant carrot,” Rogowski said. “They also make an insane parsnip cake, and I just substitute them for carrots.”

Parsnips, which resemble carrots in shape, have tan-colored skin and creamy flesh. They boast a woody texture and taste spicy while producing a honeyed aroma when roasted.

When selecting parsnips, look for firm choices with no cracks or blemishes. Rogowski recommends roasting them as you would prepare baby potatoes (425 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes), tossed with a generous amount of oil and seasoned.

“I let the vegetables do the work,” she said. “With potatoes, I’ll add some rosemary, but with the others, they just need a bit of olive oil and sea salt and I finish them with fresh parsley. Come January and February, you need that burst of green.”

Root crops call for little else save a toss or two during roasting. If properly scrubbed, carrots and parsnips don’t necessarily need peeling, though peeling away a thin outer layer encourages a crisper charred finish.

Turnips roast nicely but also serve as constant companions as a ubiquitous pickled side on Middle Eastern menus. I can’t bring turnips home without pickling a few to produce lifit. While my husband lived in Syria during his doctoral studies in 2010, he ate lifit nearly every day alongside a serving of stewed beans. Around our home, the bold pink slices serve as a faithful companion to beans, rice or grilled lamb but lately as a reminder of life itself and the fragile world in which we live.

As 2017 begins, may you enjoy roasted, mashed or pickled root vegetables and share a plate with those you cherish most.

minimized-lifit-pickled-turnips-two-copyQuick Lifit (Pickled Turnips)

1½ to 2 pounds turnips (peeled and sliced)
1 small beet
1 mild pepper pod
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup water
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup white vinegar

Boil beet in small saucepan of water until tender. Cool, peel and quarter. Mix water and vinegar and set aside. Place turnips in sterilized quart jar. Add beets, pepper pod and teaspoon of salt. Pour vinegar mixture into jar to completely cover vegetables. Seal jar, label with date and refrigerate seven days, agitating jar for a minute every other day. Lifit will turn bright fuchsia, thanks to the beet.

By Mary Ann Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current

 

Too Good to Toss

Thanksgiving, with its signature feasts, is a fitting time to thank the farmers, bakers and specialty food producers who make it possible for us to find mounds of fresh vegetables, pastured poultry and cut-to-order domestic cheeses. While families and friends usher in the high season for sharing food and drinks, your to-do list should include a plan for leftovers. Finishing off the stuffing and sweet potatoes not only saves time and money but controls food waste. Ever slathered leftover sweet potatoes on corn tortillas to grill?

minimized-cranberry-sauce-compote-copySome food waste is unavoidable, but after the second or third day of overlooking leftovers in the refrigerator, options diminish. For those who eat turkey and welcome its protein value, eating the dark or white meat on Thanksgiving may be plenty, though some of us look forward to building a sandwich on toasty rye bread. To revive your leftovers, let them stand in for a breakfast change, like cranberry sauce compote, spiked with crunchy granola. Reserve potato peels for a vegetable stock and put the mashed potatoes to work in a classic dish.

With this year’s leftover turkey, I’m making a mashed potato dish that resembles shepherd’s pie and its close cousin, cottage pie. Traditionalists insist that only lamb can be used to make shepherd’s pie and beef is required for cottage pie. But whatever you want to call it, turkey works for me. In fact, this comfort dish can be made with fish or a mixture of lentils and crunchy carrots folded under the layer of potatoes.minimized-slice-of-leftovers-pie

Though this post-Thanksgiving mashup, which I call Gobbler Pie, may look like a shepherd’s pie, it takes on a character of its own with the help of blended spices and caramelized onions. If you can find a batch or grind your own, Lebanese seven-spice blend carries the pie across cultures.

To further prevent food waste and help alleviate hunger in the region, contact the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley (foodbankofhudsonvalley.org or 845-534-5344). It collects millions of pounds of food each year for distribution in Dutchess, Putnam and three other nearby counties.

Cranberry sauce compote

Serves 4

2 soft bananas
8 ounces plain yogurt
2 cups granola
leftover cranberry sauce (water, fresh cranberries, grated orange or lemon peel, sugar)
Blend bananas and yogurt. Layer yogurt, granola, cranberry sauce and more granola to enjoy the remains of fresh cranberry sauce.

Gobbler Pie

Serves 6

olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Lebanese seven-spice blend (a mixture of equal parts ground allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg) or your own favorite spice blend
4 cups shredded turkey
mashed potatoes

Shake shredded turkey with spice blend and 1 tablespoon olive oil in plastic bag or covered bowl until evenly coated. Set spiced turkey aside. In large pan, cook onions with salt in olive oil over high heat. Stir continuously until onions turn brown in color. Add spiced turkey and warm through.

Spoon turkey and onion mixture into greased baking dish. Cover turkey layer with leftover mashed potatoes. Drizzle olive oil over potatoes. Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 375 degrees until the top begins to turn golden brown. Sprinkle top lightly with spice blend.

All-Purpose Pasta

Although average strands of spaghetti dressed with a homemade sauce typically fill the dinner plates at our house, there’s no argument that to appreciate the beauty of true noodles — prepared with eggs, flour and a little olive oil — you need fresh pasta.

For fine pasta selections, like the hand-rolled pasta at Manhattan restaurant Felidia, it’s hard to beat what culinary pros create with dough. It’s completely unlikely that the pasta from my own kitchen will ever measure up to the delicate egg pastas turned out at Felidia, but every now and then I attempt to roll my own dough.minimized-beating-eggs-in-bowl

Purchasing high-end dried pasta that’s perfect in flavor and texture is another option. A couple of weeks ago, my family dropped in at the newest location of Eataly, the gastronomic store, at 4 World Trade Center. Lidia Bastianich, who created Felidia, has a hand in Eataly, along with her son, Joe Bastianich, and chef Mario Batali. Besides its selection of fine pasta, Eataly includes a restaurant and gourmet marketplace stocked with spices, oils, olives, bread, cheeses, wine — anything imaginable to create an “Eatalian” dinner.

Shelf after shelf of perfectly packaged nests of noodles filled me up even before I tasted (and devoured) the agnolotti during dinner. Long pastas, short pastas, pastas for soup, little pillows of pasta and thick, ridged and hollow pastas were all within reach. It’s an inspirational place.

With so many shapes and sizes to choose from at groceries like Foodtown in Cold Spring — including selections of gluten-free rice- and corn-blended noodles — it’s convenient to buy ready-to-cook pasta. But making basic egg pasta dough isn’t all that taxing. It’s not essential, but a pasta-making machine might simplify the rolling and bring more fun to the task with its hand-cranking mechanism.

If you don’t have a machine, roll out dough by hand and slice pasta with a knife or pizza cutter. Rolling dough as paper-thin as possible results in beautiful ribbons, but appearance is not all that counts. The texture and width of a noodle determine what type of sauce pairs best with it.

For thoroughly indulgent egg pasta, use only egg yolks. Gather a couple of ingredients and a rolling pin and turn out fresh sheets of dough. My daily dining partners favor a thicker fettuccine-type noodle that holds up under a layer of stout red sauce. It tastes good any time, but especially on a dark winter’s day. This time of year, as colors change and autumn leaves fall, the pasta serves as a bed for a hearty mix of vegetables anchored by acorn squash. The real work comes with the squash, and once you’ve managed to peel its firm skin, you’ll probably find the pasta prep painless.

Sautéed Squash

1 large acorn squash, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, diced
½ sweet onion, diced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 cups hominy, rinsed
⅓ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

Mix olive oil with spices over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots and squash. Cook until tender. Add hominy. Mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta.

Pasta Dough

Serves 4 to 6

2½ cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place flour in mixing bowl (if especially coordinated, pour the flour directly onto work surface) and create a well in the center. Crack eggs into the well and slowly beat eggs. Mix in olive oil and gradually work eggs into flour. If necessary, add a tablespoon of water to moisten. Knead dough until smooth. Finish kneading on flat surface. Form a ball of dough, cover and let dough rest 30 minutes. Slice the dough into sections, dust with flour and, using a pasta machine, pass the sections through flat pasta rollers. Lightly flour pasta sections after each pass. Repeat, adjusting the width for a thinner sheet. Once desired thickness is reached, pass dough sheets through cutters. If hand-rolling, roll dough to thin consistency and cut into desired types.

Bring a large pan of salted water to boil. Drop pasta into water little by little and cook uncovered until pasta rises and floats. Test a noodle to make sure it’s tender and done before removing from the cooking pot. Toss with sauce, vegetables, or top with light butter and finish with freshly grated cheese.

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current

Chocolate Reserve

By Mary Ann Ebner

It often pays off to stash a little chocolate — and cocoa  — in the cupboard. The confectionery staples embellish everything and cool weather calls for cocoa.

To those who temper chocolate, temperature matters beyond the chocolate thermometer. As autumn arrives, chocolate delicacies hold up longer, while demand from chocolate lovers increases.

When temperatures dipped, Alps Sweet Shop stepped up chocolate production. The family business, which has locations in Beacon and Fishkill, has handcrafted small-batch fine confections for more than 90 years. It was founded by Peter Charkalis and today is run by his granddaughter, Sally Charkalis-Craft, and her husband, Terry Craft, a master chocolatier.

minimized-terry-craft-prepares-salted-caramel-copy

Terry Craft, master chocolatier and co-owner of Alps Sweet Shop, pours 110  pounds of salted caramel onto a cooling tray at their Beacon location. 

Customers streamed in to Beacon’s Main Street location last week to choose from sweets in cases brimming with chocolate-covered caramels, heaven-and-earth truffles, chocolate glace fruits, almond butter crunch and molded chocolates.

Terry Craft and his candy makers work year round but fall production keeps them in the kitchen even longer, stirring kettles bubbling with the likes of salted caramel and dark chocolate. He studied his craft in the U.S., Belgium, France, Canada and England, and although producing confections is labor intensive, he says he finds the work rewarding.

“It’s a feel-good type of business,” Craft said. “People are either coming in here to make themselves happy or to make someone else happy.”

The recipes haven’t changed since Peter Charkalis’s day, but the production methods have evolved from the days when every morsel was handmade. Sally’s mother, Mary Charkalis, recalled a turning point in 1968 when the shop bought its first piece of machinery, an enrober. Sally’s grandfather was not happy about the purchase, so her father waited until he was on vacation in Greece to have it delivered. (He eventually came around to appreciate its benefits.)

An enrober — which moves confections down a conveyor belt, along a cold plate to set the bottom and then through a curtain of chocolate for coating — still stands ready in the Beacon shop. Alps has since further modernized its methods by purchasing an automated candy wrapper and computerized molding equipment.

Like any connoisseur in matters of taste, Craft knows cocoa (or cacao, as it is more commonly known where it’s grown). He prefers a Criollo cocoa bean from Ecuador. The common Forastero bean is a close second but he says it doesn’t have the pronounced flavor. As a third option there’s the Trinitario, a hybrid of the Criollo and the Forastero.

“The best of the best [chocolatiers] can tell you while eating them not only what part of the world a bean is from but the region or plantation where they’re grown,” Craft said. “This particular plantation has a patented fermentation process and right now I have exclusive U.S. rights. These Ecuadorian Criollo beans are right off the plantation.” He cracked open a bean, removed the nib and gently crushed it.

“The nib is where the excitement starts,” he explained. “The nib is pressed and the cocoa butter is extracted and what’s left is called the chocolate liquor,” the paste that serves as the essential ingredient for chocolate. Craft sells the Ecuadorian product to restaurants and pastry chefs as well as a microbrewer. He also coats whole beans in organic chocolate and recently filled an order for 25,000.

“You can taste the earthiness, a savory touch, fruitiness and the soil of the region,” he said. “And the cocoa bean is off the charts with its flavonoids and high in vitamins and minerals.”

Savor a piece of gourmet chocolate or make the cake recipe here that calls for cocoa powder and bits of chocolate. Some chip chocolates have a high melting point, so a better choice is a premium chocolate like the break-up bars that Alps produces in milk, dark and organic white chocolate.minimized-chocolate-kahlua-cake-two

Fragrant cocoa powder, Kahlua and rich chocolate enhance this Bundt cake. 

Home cooks should be able to find small quantities of good cocoa at local markets. Natural unsweetened cocoa, non-alkalized, will be darker while alkalized will soften bitterness. Some cocoas may also affect rise and texture of a cake. This chocolate cake always pleases, thanks in part to flavorful chocolate, powerful cocoa and a dose of Kahlua.

Chocolate Kahlua Cake

1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
4 eggs, beaten
16 ounces sour cream
¾ cups canola oil
⅓ cup Kahlua
6 ounces chocolate, broken into small pieces

Glaze

2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ cups Kahlua

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter Bundt pan and dust with cocoa. Mix flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, sour cream, oil and Kahlua. Stir thoroughly and fold in chocolate pieces. Pour batter into pan and bake 1 hour.

Whisk glaze ingredients and set aside.

Allow cake to cool, then invert. Pour glaze over cake and set 1 hour. Refrigerate if serving next day. Serve with fresh mint leaves.

Photos by M.A. Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current